In the WCG's splits that began in the 1970s and snowballed through the 1990s, Church of God members indulged in and "picked at the spoils of this destructive worldwide organization," and themselves in some cases became as intolerant as the "worldwide organization" itself had ever been.
Imperfect preaching of Christ
He quoted verses beginning with Galatians 1:6 in which Paul warns against preaching "any other gospel than the gospel revealed by Jesus Christ."
Mr. Cole agrees with Paul on the need to "preach Christ."
However, determining who is doing the best job of preaching Christ "is not up to me to decide," he said. "I don't worry about that. I don't worry about who's preaching the true gospel and who isn't."
Rather, "I worry about what I accept and what I don't . . . It isn't my business to be overly concerned about every other group that I may or may not wish to identify with."
He also quoted from Philippians 1 beginning with verse 15, where Paul says he is happy that "Christ is preached" even when He is not perfectly preached.
Groups and individuals who preach sermons Mr. Cole does not agree with are still "preaching Christ," he said. Even though some of those groups may have "questionable motives," assume "questionable authority" and even come up with "dubious reasons" for saying what they say, "the fact remains that Christ is being preached, and that fact makes me very happy."
Mr. Cole said he does not mean to say that people should not have strong convictions.
He is saying, however, that "everyone must be persuaded in his or her own mind about matters of fellowship, about matters of where you can be most encouraged, uplifted, empowered, inspired and blessed, by your fellowship and your meeting together, your assembly before God."
Mr. Cole did mention that there are groups and individuals among the many Church of God splits he prefers not to fellowship with. He referred to those while quoting from Matthew 23's verses concerning scribes, Pharisees and hypocrites.
"I'm not going to name any names," Mr. Cole said, "and I don't know that I fully, 100 percent, could identify anybody in this day and age as falling into those categories. But I can tell you this: that any group that wants to scour this world to make converts and to exercise dominion and undue control, those people come dangerously close" to emulating the Pharisees and hypocrites of Matthew 23.
A uniter, not a divider
"I would like to be a uniter, not a divider, among the Churches of God," Mr. Cole continued.
He gave as a good example of a uniter a friend of his, Whaid Rose of Denver, Colo., president of the Church of God (Seventh Day) denomination that is headquartered in Denver.
"Do we [Mr. Rose and Mr. Cole] agree about everything? We certainly don't. Are there fundamental areas in our beliefs where we differ?
"Yes, but so what? Does that mean I'm right and they [the CG7] are wrong?"
Agreement and disagreement over doctrine, even important doctrine, are not as important as he once thought they were, Mr. Cole said.
"All it means is we may both have a lot of growing to do . . . But we can respect each other."
The Churches of God of Mr. Cole's experience "have been and are very good at focusing on issues that divide rather than on issues that unite," he said. "We truly really know how to be critical of each other."
Can't strong convictions and tolerance peacefully coexist? Mr. Cole asked.
"Is it not possible to be firm in personal conviction without the requirement to be critical--yea, even hostile--to others of differing persuasions?
". . . I submit that the Scripture tells us that that's the way it should be."
Mr. Cole said the subject of tolerance intrigues him because of his own background and the evolution of his attitudes toward church practices and teachings.
Seven proofs of 1975
"Primarily this sermon is an outgrowth of my own personal readings," he said.
"Every day I try to read a little bit of the Bible . . ." but "in the past I have been one pretty given to dogmatism."
In 1970, he said, while he served as regional director for Australia for the Worldwide Church God, Mr. Cole spoke "very dogmatically" during sermons at the Feast of Tabernacles in Blackheath, in New South Wales.
"I was very dogmatic . . . about the end of the age coming in 1972 and that Jesus Christ may indeed return to this earth in 1975," he said. "I gave seven proofs that that's the way it was going to be.
"The only thing that was wrong with it was that it was all wrong. It just didn't happen. None of it."
Mr. Cole talked about a church member in Australia who had read the WCG's booklet 1975 in Prophecy and as a result shut down a successful business and moved all the way across the island continent to be near the church's Australian headquarters while waiting for the end of the age.
When 1975 came and went and Jesus did not return, the church member "was highly disappointed, chagrined, disenchanted and hurt when he realized that that was an error," Mr. Cole said.
The learning never stops
Mr. Cole talked in generalities for much of the sermon: Be tolerant. Don't let your dogmatism run away with you. Don't shun people because they don't agree with everything you believe.
But he also gave specifics. He spoke of variations of belief and practices including disagreements over whether there is "one God vs. more than one member of the Godhead or the God family," "calendar issues, matters of divine healing, matters of Sabbath observance" and "holy days" and "the keeping of them," "clean and unclean meats, tithing" and "many other subjects."
"I don't care what subject you put on the list," he continued. ". . . It is only love that can make [a person] grow to his full stature, for, whatever a man may know, he still has a lot to learn."
Mr. Cole drew his conclusion: "Be convicted. Be persuaded. Study. Be fully persuaded in your own mind. Be able to give a defense if anyone should ask the question of why you do what you do."
But also bear in mind that everyone's knowledge, including yours, "is not perfect knowledge."
He said he doesn't advise that you "water down what you believe; we're not talking about being wishy-washy and having no convictions . . . No, we're talking about tolerance and respect for each other . . .
"I'm not preaching to you that we shouldn't be firm in what we believe . . . But let us also understand that others will be as firm as we are" and can come to "a different conclusion."